The Nearly Men: Bayern Munich’s 2012 Shocker

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Bayern Munich's German defender Philipp Lahm (C) and Bayern Munich's German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (R) react after the UEFA Champions League final football match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Chelsea FC on May 19, 2012 at the Fussball Arena stadium in Munich. Chelsea won 4-3 in the penalty phase.AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/GettyImages)

Bayern Munich have had a stellar start to life under Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian manager has enjoyed an impressive first few weeks at the club, winning all of his matches across three different competitions, helping the club to the top of the table in the Bundesliga as well as their Champions League group.

It wasn’t all easy going for them a few seasons ago, however. In the summer of 2011, German manager Jupp Heynckes took over the club after a rough patch under his predecessor, Louis van Gaal. His impressive start and fine footballing style deteriorated along the way and ended in turmoil. This is the story of their horrible end to the 2011/12 season.

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The penalty shoutout was tied at 3-3 in the most nail-biting Champions League final in recent history, and up stepped Chelsea hero Didier Drogba, who had already scored past Manuel Neuer earlier in the night. He smashed his spot-kick into the right-hand corner, getting the better of the goalkeeper. An unfazed, confident figure in front of goal, Drogba had now further cemented his status as a Chelsea legend. The Blues had won the Champions League for the first time.

The celebrations and the joy of winning the Champions League on one half of the pitch saw contradicting emotions on the other half. Club legend Bastian Schweinsteiger broke down, with an equally disheartened Phillip Lahm coming up to console him, along with his other distraught team-mates. Bayern Munich had failed Bavaria by losing the Champions League final at their home.

Bayern heard a lot of the word “runners-up” that season. The term is rarely mentioned by their side, as history suggests. A juggernaut which has given football the gifts of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Lothar Matthäus over the years was synonymous with the term that season, having finished second in each of the three competitions in which they competed over the course of three weeks.

“Football, and life, is sometimes unpredictable and crazy. I don’t think anyone could have predicted this.” – Roberto di matteo, Chelsea caretaker manager, 19th may 2012

The loss in the Champions League final was a particularly woeful one. On a fine starry evening under the bright lights of the Allianz Arena, the setting seemed perfect, but the game wasn’t. Chelsea’s stern defensive back line, which got the better of Napoli, Benfica and famously Barcelona in previous rounds, held on to frustrate Bayern throughout the night.

Bayern did get first blood, however. Thomas Müller, one of Bayern’s own, scored a fine headed goal past a baffled Petr Čech in the 83rd minute. Surely they thought this was their night. Wrong. At the other end, just five minutes after Bayern struck, Juan Mata’s fine, curling corner met the powerful head of Didier Drogba. Chelsea were back; extra-time beckoned.

If the end to normal time wasn’t heartbreaking enough, extra-time brought more agony. Drogba clipped Franck Ribéry in the area to give Bayern the chance to take the lead again. Arjen Robben stepped up, but missed. A terrible penalty saw the game go to a shootout, which obviously ended in more horror.

Drogba’s winning penalty saw the entire squad go down on their knees and kiss the ground in despair. Crestfallen, broken and grievous, this “runner-up” tag failed to let go.

Dortmund Dominance

On the opening day of the Bundesliga season, Borussia Mönchengladbach overcame the Bayern challenge to set former boss Heynckes off on a sour note. Their form improved drastically since that defeat as they went on to win their next six matches in the league. A dip in form which included one draw and two losses over the next six failed to shrug them off the top of the table before a 3-2 away defeat to Mainz gave Jürgen Klopp‘s Borussia Dortmund side the lead.

In the DFB-Pokal, Bayern overcame the task of Eintracht Braunschweig and Ingolstadt 04 in the first two rounds, scoring nine goals in the process and getting an away tie against VfL Bochum.

The lead in the Bundesliga failed to stick with Dortmund for long. Bayern’s 4-1 win at home against Werder Bremen, followed by wins against VfB Stuttgart and FC Köln, solidified their spot at the top.

They were served a rude awakening in their second game against Borussia Mönchengladbach, with ex-Dortmund protégé Marco Reus running the show. This was preceded by a 1-1 draw at lowly Hamburg to give Borussia Dortmund the advantage and pole position once again. Subsequent inconsistency, which included results like a draw and a loss in four games, followed and Bayern saw Dortmund stretch their lead at the top. The title was slipping away.

Unlike the league, their form in the cup was impeccable. A win away at Bochum in the third round was followed by an easy result in the quarter-final against Stuttgart. Borussia Mönchengladbach, their nemesis all season, awaited in the semi-finals. A fairly defensive game saw the tie going to penalties, with Bayern coming out on top after a dreadful list of collective penalties by Gladbach. Bayern were off to Berlin.

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Heading into April, Borussia Dortmund were unbeaten in the league since the end of September and into the finals of the DFB Pokal. On the 11th of that month, the decisive game of the Bundesliga was played out at the Westfalenstadion. Dortmund seemed unbreakable on the night with their tough defence holding out through the night. Robert Lewandowski scored in the 77th minute against the run of play to give them the lead and get one hand on the Bundesliga Meisterschale. 

Bayen were afforded a lifeline eight minutes from time, however. Arjen Robben, who had been probing all evening, won a penalty to give them a glimmer of hope. His spot kick was saved by captain Roman Weidenfeller. Bayern were defeated; Dortmund were almost there.

Die Borussen continued their unbeaten run till the end of the season. A run of 18 games saw 16 wins and two draws as they won the league by eight points. Bayern’s inconsistency and defensive frailties meant they had to wait another season to get hold of the elusive Bundesliga shield.

In the final of the DFB-Pokal at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Shinji Kagawa, Dortmund’s Japanese sensation, scored early to give Dortmund the lead. It didn’t last long, however. Arjen Robben, who missed against the same opposition in the lead, converted a spot-kick to level the scores. Minutes before the break, Mats Hummels converted a penalty of his own to take Dortmund into the break with the lead. What followed after that was lethal.

Robert Lewandowski, a man who has had an astonishing rise, was fairly quiet in the first half. In the second half, however, he showed the world what he was made of. A hat-trick in the most sensational manner put Bayern off their rails and into oblivion. Franck Ribéry got a consolation along the way, but the win was guaranteed long before that. Dortmund won 5-2 and the double was sealed.

Recovery

Bayern Munich were able to recover from their horrendous showing in 2012. A treble in 2013 of the exact same competitions in which they were runners-up the previous year under the same management. They’ve won every Bundesliga title since then, three DFB-Pokal honours and one Champions League. A large part of their team was also involved in Germany’s World Cup winning side of 2014.

Carlo Ancelotti takes control of a side which has won the lot in recent years. His main objective falls on winning the Champions League, an honour which eluded his predecessor Pep Guardiola. His start has been dominant, and he’ll hope he doesn’t collapse like Jupp Heynckes’ side did in 2012.

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